Welcome to 2018! Hope you all saw the New Year in with style! This interview is a little unusual in that the person I’m featuring is a little different to other Thought Leaders I’ve interviewed, Josue Romero is a creative mind who is truly inspiring. So, who is he? Born and raised in Venezuela, Josue moved to the United States for college where he studied finance. During his college years (like most students) he started going to bars with friends, and eventually ended up behind the bar as a way to pay for college (and the drinks of course). It’s here where Josue (or better known as “The Garnish Guy”) honed his craft. Today Josue is a bartender at Odd Birds Bar in St. Augustine, Florida where he creates cocktails that not only look incredible but tell stories. He starts with building rapport and very quickly understanding his customer, asking questions about them and their preferences. From this, he creates “sure to be loved cocktails”.
Storytelling in the bar scene is starting to emerge as something that part of the drinking experience, but many bars have “prescribed” stories they reel off each time a customer orders a drink, but what Josue is doing is next level hospitability. He is the guy that will pick you up, make you feel like a million dollars and ensure you leave feeling richer and happier. I’m super intrigued by this and I feel there is much commercial brands can learn from leading mixologists like Josue. Lets find out more:
What’s your favourite cocktail and why?
I am whiskey guy, so I truly enjoy spirit forward, savoury cocktails, like an Old Fashioned.
In your opinion what’s the best bar and why?
Difficult one, I have been to some great bars, and to many not so great bars, and to some really really bad ones! Honestly, I don’t have a bar that jumps right in front of me right now as the “best bar”. As long as the bartender is kind, polite, and genuine, the cocktails are balanced, tasteful, and overall pleasing, the music is enjoyable, the spirit collecting is diverse, and the atmosphere makes you want to stay and order another drink, well that right there is a bar I want to be in. Of course, as long as they have Fernet, (an Italian aromatic spirit).
What is it about cocktails that inspires and motivates you?
I have a huge appreciation for art, so every time I go to a new city, you’ll find me during the day at a museum or an art gallery, and night at a cocktail bar. For me, weirdly enough, both go hand and hand, so I express my art skills in the presentation of my cocktails.
You’re known as the “The Garnish Guy” on Instagram and your cocktails are much more than delicious drinks. Tell us what “cocktail styling” is and what craft means to you?
Craft is an interesting word, for many people, it means better and therefore expensive, I have been to really bad craft cocktail bars and had $30 rum and cokes. If you work with special care towards detail, then you should see your work as craftsmanship. For me, “craft” is the whole shebang; it’s the care, details, consistency, training, good tools, quality products, and the freshness of ingredients used when making cocktails. Cocktail styling is the art of arranging the components of a cocktail, more specifically in garnishing and glassware, to entice the sight of a consumer or potential consumers. Many times, behind the bar, I make a cocktail for a customer, and people around order the same cocktail just because of the way it looks, not even caring about its content.
Stories are a big part of your creations. How important is storytelling to you and how you go about creating emotional, lasting customer experiences?
Everyone wants to feel special, I’m human, I know that first hand. And you know, I have such a great passion when people smile around me, I would like to think that I’m really funny, but my sense of humour is kinda weird, so I make people feel special by creating an experience. I have a big notebook with cocktails recipes I have created (in my mind that is), and I like to create cocktails based on my customer’s unique flavour profile. I ask about what they normally drink, tasting notes, flavours they enjoy, the type of spirit (liquor) of choice. I ask about allergies and take everything into account, then I get to create a balanced cocktail that is customized just for that person. I select a unique vintage glass, use herbs, spices, fruits, even barks and seeds to add an aromatic aspect to the cocktail. I care about what I do, I care about what the customer thinks about my drink, and that care allows us to connect with each other, and that’s how I build relationships.
Who inspires you and where do you find creativity?
My creativity comes from different areas, sometimes walking around antique shops and finding different glassware and bar arrangement, as far as creativity for flavours, I go to the local markets and see what’s fresh. I also tend to browse through botanical books, as I try to use ingredients that go beyond giving a flavour to the cocktail, an example of this, an ingredient may have a health benefit that I’ll include (I’ll be adding more of that on my IG posts moving forward). I am still new at Instagram and photography, so I have been spending some time browsing through other food and cocktails blogs to get inspiration, not quite to replicate but to get ideas in lighting and setups.
When thinking about a cocktail, what do you think about first and how do you design what you end up creating?
When creating a cocktail I follow the punch rule, a spirit, something sweet, something citrus or bitter, a spice, and water. The water referring to ice, although some cocktails are served at room temperature. All those components should work in harmony to create a balanced cocktail. I first start with the primary spirit although sometimes I blend spirits. Then I need a sweet component, there are varieties, I personally go for honey, agave, demerara sugar, or even stevia to stay natural. Then the citrus or bitter component to balance the cocktail, (here I decide if the cocktail is going to be shaken or stirred), I can go for lemon or lime juice or an amaro, bitters, or aperitifs. Lastly is the spice, often I use natural spices or herbs muddled with the spirit or liqueurs, and bitters help for that.
Food and drink (alcoholic or not), along with incredible hospitality makes us all feel special. The creative journey chefs and mixologists go on in order to give us memorable experiences is an art form in its own right. What Josue does is very special. He is a delight to speak with and he leaves those that come in contact with him feeling like they are the only person in the room.
If you’re in St Augustine, FL, check-in, say hi and enjoy his wonderful creations at the Odd Birds Bar
Keep an eye out for when he makes guest appearances in other bars, something Josue does once every 3-4 weeks and watch this space for his European tour.
Get in touch with him here: email@example.com